Time flies when you’re an intern! Apparently.
A month has passed since I began work with the San Bernardino National Forest. The snow melted. Then it snowed again. Somewhere in between things picked up for us.
The SBNF restoration staff tackle an incredible number of responsibilities, and we’ve been busy learning how projects are carried out and prioritized on what is, apparently, one of the most heavily utilized patches of public land in the country. Every weekend the (human) population explodes in Big Bear. Thousands come from all over southern California to snowboard, ski, hike, climb, fish, and drive through the mud. While most forest users treat the area with respect, others do not, and thus restoration is necessary.
One of the most common and damaging illegal practices on the forest is the creation of unauthorized off-highway vehicle (OHV) trails. Many miles of legal “green sticker” routes already traverse the forest. I’ve driven on them. They’re beautiful. They climb stunning ridgelines and cross desert streams. The Forest Service and partnering organization the Southern California Mountains Foundation (SCMF) has worked to carefully designate and manage these routes. But, instead of sticking to them, some users drive off and pass into wilderness. Where one ATV, dirt bike, or jeep goes, others are bound to follow. Before long, there are miles and miles of crushed native plants and otherwise damaged habitat. In the desert where plant growth is incredibly slow and other pressures abound, these ecosystems could take extreme lengths of time to naturally recover. Indeed, they may never return to a previous state on their own.
The SBNF restoration program receives funding from the state of California to close off unauthorized trails and attempt revegetation. Following closure, restoration sites require years of monitoring to ensure drivers stay away and plants grow in properly. The program utilizes a small number of staff and volunteers to cover a lot of ground. It’s interesting to hear which methods of closure work depending on locations and varieties of use. For example, heavier cable fences are used to cut off high traffic routes, while T-post fences or even scattered tree branches are sufficient on smaller paths. Some unauthorized trails are allowed to passively revegetate, while others are seeded and others still planted with native plants grown in our greenhouse. Seed is always collected from plants already occurring nearby. In many cases, these methods have proven remarkably successful.
In the future, many of the plants in our restoration greenhouse will be grown with the dual purpose of promoting the health of pollinating insects! The program recently received funding for the enhancement of pollinator habitat, which is a subject I’m very much interested in and also one of the reasons I was so excited to join the team here. This work is supported by the National Pollinator Strategy–organized and endorsed by the White House! It is also supported by regional Forest Service best management practice guidelines. I’m happy to see pollinators recognized as valuable on these significant governmental levels! A few weeks back we started planting a few hundred milkweed seeds. Milkweeds, of course, are the primary food source for monarch butterfly larvae. Three local species were planted in small pots and “flats”: Asclepias californica, A. fascicularis, and A. eriocarpa. Thousands more are to be planted in the coming weeks.
Speaking of plants and pollinators, I’ve also started work on a major update of a restoration document intended to guide the revegetation of disturbed sites within the various “vegetation communities” of the SBNF. This “work horse” species document describes the forest’s many varied habitats, the expertly recommended “work horse” species to be utilized in their recovery, and the specific value of these species to pollinators. Pretty cool!
I’m very much looking forward to growing more familiar with these unique vegetation communities and pollinator ecology in general. I’m also excited to see the Asclepias seedlings grow up. One day they’ll be Asclepias adults, and I’m hopeful to see a few out-planted before the end of my internship. Finally, outside of work, I’m taking every opportunity to explore my surroundings in southern California. Visits to Joshua Tree NP, Death Valley, the Salton Sea, Los Angeles, and San Diego are on the horizon!
Note: I would like to apologize to the good people of the Inland Empire for misspelling San Bernardino three times in my previous post. That semi-silent R threw me for a loop. Won’t happen again!
Mountaintop Ranger District
San BernaRdino National Forest